BASTROP, Texas (KXAN) — Rodney Reed has asked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to disregard a Bastrop judge’s recommendation that his conviction stand, saying the judge who oversaw a two-week summer hearing failed to properly consider new evidence and “rubberstamped” state prosecutors’ arguments, according to a new filing in the state’s highest criminal court.
A Bastrop jury convicted Reed in 1998 and sentenced him to death for the rape and murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites in Bastrop. Last summer, the Court of Criminal Appeals ordered the case back to Bastrop District Court for a two-week evidentiary hearing presided over by Judge J.D. Langley.
- Find comprehensive Rodney Reed case coverage, including day-by-day analysis of the summer hearing here.
More than 45 witnesses testified at the hearing, including medical experts, Stites’ family members and Jimmy Fennell – the victim’s former fiancé who Reed argues committed the murder. Reed’s defense team said the evidence presented at the hearing shows their client is actually innocent. Langley ultimately recommended the Court of Criminal Appeals deny all relief sought by Reed.
Reed’s attorneys said Langley’s recommendations were wrong and amounted to a “copy-and-pasted order” written almost verbatim by state prosecutors. Langley was supposed to be impartial and make independent credibility determinations, but that didn’t happen, according to Reed. The defense noted Langley found all the more than 20 witnesses who testified on Reed’s behalf to not be credible, while he found all 20-plus witnesses who testified on the state’s behalf to be credible, according to Reed’s amended memorandum and objections to findings of fact and conclusions of law.
“The abdication of the judge’s duty cannot be tolerated, especially when an innocent man’s life is at stake. The CCA entrusted Judge Langley with making impartial findings and independent assessments of witnesses’ credibility, supported by the evidence. That did not happen,” according to a prepared statement from Jane Pucher, a senior Innocence Project attorney representing Reed.
Langley said the court had “extensively considered the entire record of this case” and was able to observe witnesses and assess their credibility,” according to recommendations he submitted Oct. 31, 2021 to the Court of Criminal Appeals.
KXAN has asked the Texas Office of Attorney General for comment, but we did not receive a response by publishing time.
Reed has asked the Court of Criminal Appeals to set aside Langley’s recommendations, grant Reed’s writ of habeas corpus and vacate his conviction and death sentence, according to the recent filing.
It is not clear when the Court of Criminal Appeals will decide on the case. Reed also has a petition pending in U.S. Supreme Court related to DNA testing. Reed’s execution was indefinitely stayed in November 2019.